Tag Archive: Level Design


Level Iterations

In our previous posts we talked a lot about juice. But in those posts, we mainly focused on main gameplay events and objects. As you might know, we more or less have all our levels finished. The gameplay stands, but the levels are all pretty rough around the edges.
We’re currently iterating over the first few levels. With each iteration, the gameplay is tweaked a little more and the graphics and lighting are made more coherent.

To give a few examples, check out the screenshots:

javaw 2014-10-07 21-47-16-07 javaw 2014-10-07 21-24-16-84

javaw 2014-10-07 21-32-11-52 javaw 2014-10-07 22-00-20-32

 

PS: We know we’ve been a bit silent on the blog lately… but believe me, it’s the calm before the storm!

 

Evolution of Caromble!

Last week, we stumbled upon some old gameplay videos of Caromble!. It is fun to see how the game has progressed over time. Some feature changes I couldn’t even remember. For example, I forgot we ever had red bumpers. This made me curious and I looked for even older footage. The oldest video I found was from INDIGO 2011, where Caromble! was playable for the very first time. To show the evolution of Caromble!, I created a small video to show the different versions side by side, with the same levels being played:

The most striking difference are probably the graphics. The paddle is different, some better lighting is added and of course, newer textures. Also, we’ve improved some of the feedback to the player: the paddle reacts to its own movement and ball collisions, we’ve added camera shake and there is an effect when a ball hits a wall. Gameplay wise, you can see that the camera is positioned higher in the newer version, which gives a better view of the action.

I must admit that I kind of liked the very fluorescent yellow boxes in the older version. Because of the higher contrast with the floor, they really stand out as something you need to destroy. However, with a more ‘realistic’ style in mind, we felt that those kind of boxes wouldn’t fit in anymore. Mmmhh… perhaps we could still squeeze them in somewhere:)

We are working steadily towards the next step in the evolution of Caromble! and expect to bring Caromble! ‘Sapiens’ into your living room in the beginning of 2014. Stay tuned!

Levels in the new theme

A few weeks ago, our artist Thomas S already showed some of the newly created assets for the new theme: Metropolitan/Commercial style. We have been working hard to create some levels with these and I got official permission to give a sneak peek:

A train that rides more reliably than ours in Utrecht Doesn't the Alien boss look scary!?

We hope you like it! It’s not only the graphics style that is different in this theme. There will be some new gameplay features that could lift you right up:)

Also nice: this week the gaming news website Gamingbolt published a piece we wrote in their section ”Developer journal’. You can read it here. We hope to have some more journals there soon.

Oh, and if you accidentally find yourself  in Amsterdam tomorrow evening, you should go to Pakhuis de Zwijger. There will be another Control Gamelab. This time it is on making Game Trailers. We hope to learn enough to make our upcoming trailer super awesome! Expect it on youtube soon, of course with moving footage of our new graphics theme.

 

Creating Challenging Challenges

Nowadays, games cannot be taken seriously without having unlockable challenge levels. Ok, it’s probably not that extreme, but it can be a great addition to your game for several reasons. It can present extra content for hardcore gamers that want to unlock everything, encouraging multiple playthroughs. It can also help to engage players and spice up the gaming experience by deviating from the core gameplay. But for us there is an extra reason…

What all game developers probably recognize, is that you can think of too many cool features for your game. When we were in the beginning (read: ‘more than a year later’) of the development of Caromble!, we realized that we had too many features planned for the game. Almost every new level would introduce a new gameplay feature. Finally we became smart enough and decided to choose a list of features to implement and just leave the rest be (I miss you so, oh ‘gravity switch’ and ‘teleporter’). This turned out to be a good decision (still I’ll never forget you…). There is so much more we can still do with our current set of features, that I believe we could make a hundred more levels with these, without becoming repetitive. It is a pity though, that some of the cool features we ‘invented’ are not in the game. But thank goodness we have some unlockable challenge levels!

Caromble! features 24 story driven levels, these are at the heart of what Caromble! is. When certain targets are met in the story, a challenge level is unlocked. A challenge level is a small simple area, in which the player gets one specific task. These levels can be crazy strange and each one stands on itself. No rules, just fun! This allows us to introduce a new feature only for that level. And why not, everything is possible in the HAVEFUN (Hypnotically Abstract Virtual Environment For Unconventional Needs (name suggestion pending)); the simulation room in the mothership designed for training purposes (story pending).

The tasks in the challenge levels range from: ‘hit as many blocks in 1 minute’ to ‘survive as long as you can with a single ball’. These challenge levels provide small ‘snacks’ (as Mark Overmars (professor and creator of Game Maker) once called them in one of his lectures on game design) that allow for a quick play, but are very entertaining for the thrill of beating the highscore. Some examples of ‘snack’ games that are very addictive, partly because of the highscore aspect, are: Jetpack Joyride, Super Hexagon, Super Cratebox and (why was I addicted to this?) Bookworm Deluxe. If the challenge levels in Caromble! provide some of the fun and addictiveness that these games have, I’ll be very happy.

As challenge levels are not part of the ‘core’ Caromble! experience, we work on them in our spare spare time (first spare time is reserved for core Caromble! tasks). Last week I had some of this precious time and created 2 challenge level prototypes. For now I call them WallSafety and BallFrenzy.

In WallSafety the player gets one ball, and one ball only, and is burdened with the task of surviving for as long as possible. The score is given by the seconds survived. The catch? The level sides are made of blocks that are destroyed by hitting it with the ball 1-3 times. Behind these blocks awaits nothing more than emptiness, thus death:

 WallSafety

 

In BallFrenzy the task is to have as many balls in play after 45 seconds. Each block that is destroyed creates another ball:

 BallFrenzy

These challenge levels provide a different gaming experience than the core gameplay and hopefully give Caromble! extra appeal. They are fun to create (because it is so simple) and fun to play (because it is so simple). The objective and scoring mechanic are very transparent and perhaps this simplicity makes it so fun. Games have become much more complex over the years and I think that sometimes we long for the simple gameplay of the old days. In that way, games are a nice analogy for life.

 

Are both words that would give you a lot of points if you were allowed to use them in Scrabble. They are also (amongst many others) the building blocks of Caromble!.

For most of us, Caromble! has been the first real game we have ever worked on. The Caromble! editor is also the first level editor most of us have ever used. Since we are not using an off-the-shelf game engine, we are also not using an existing editor. We would have to create our own editor as we went along.

A screenshot of the editor. The red boxes are actors, which control the game-play  The lines indicate the relations between the objects. This system will make the camera switch position as the ball shoots over the ramp.

A screenshot of the editor. The red boxes are actors, which control the game-play The lines indicate the relations between the objects. This system will make the camera switch position as the ball shoots over the ramp.

The editor (as we call it) grew (and grows) along with the game. I would say in terms of age the editor is now in its puberty. To be more precise, the editor is in that stage of puberty where body parts lose track of each other and start growing at their own rate.

For a piece of software this means that some functionality is mature (like the stuff Raymond wrote about two weeks ago), and some other stuff not so much. It wasn’t until about a year ago that we added some sort of actor system, that allows you to control object interaction from within the Editor.

The late addition of such a core system lead to an explosion of all sorts of exotic actors with even more exotic names. Those in the title are firmly among my favorites.

To return to my analogy, puberty is a crucial phase of development, although it can be challenging at times. Because we needed the actors, this part grew a lot and right now is  a bit out of proportion. As the Editor ages and eventually will reach adulthood, everything will grow back into proportion.

Right now we are focused on creating game-play, and the editor doesn’t get all the attention it deserves. We’ll give it that attention before (and if) we release it (after we release the game).

 

 

Level editor

Caromble! is our first game and it’s a great experience to create a fully fledged game. Although we are a small team of five, our goal is to deliver a quality game which we can be proud of.

Because we only work on Fridays, time is precious. But, beside our life of game making on Fridays, we sometimes spent time on our personal lives. We allow each other to go on a business trip, exercise for a stage play, host an art gallery, and go skiing. So occasionally our schedule takes in a critical hit when someone sacrifices a Friday to gain life experience points.

On the other hand, we recently build some time saving features into our self-made level editor. Some minor ones are a relief, like auto-completion of certain input fields or the option to ignore invisible objects while selecting visible objects. But the major one that scores most thumbs up: the game now runs within the editor! This really is a huge time saver. Designing and creating levels has always been fun, but the small and big improvements on the level editor adds to our quality of life.

Hopefully someday you may experience the delights :) of creating Caromble! levels as we consider to release our level editor.

Color Coding

About time to post some concept art, that’s still waiting to see the light of the internet. Some time ago we decided on the chapters we will have in the final version. These have to look consistent with each other, but also distinguished as different themes. Add to that that the gameplay itself uses colors too (the common red explosives for example), and you have quite a complex setup to plan.

Since the gameplay also evolved organically, it dawned on me pretty late that each part should have a clear color code. Here is the setup I sketched out:

The bumpers are blue, and the borders, that the player can’t destroy are yellow for example… this might not need to be explained to the player – but tell him subconsciously what he can do in the game.

Here you can see how it works in the game so far:

The strong colors of these elements make it hard to get all the rest work well with the subtle colors I wanted. But gameplay goes first. I’m actually thinking to try black for the “indestructible” border – might be more consistent with the black outlines in the artworks, and allow yellow to be used for other parts, like highlighting important structures.

After that then I approachd an overview of the level art – with more muted colors. And specific shapes for the different chapters. For now we’re going only for the factory and the commercial area. … and now comes the hard part to get all this nearly like it into the game.

Building a level

editor

 

This week, we finally finished coding all the gameplay for the next few levels. Of course we also made some real progress building them.
For that, we use our own custom-made editor. It allows us to very quickly place new objects, link them together and add behavior such that we can easily prototype new ideas and looks. It is still a bit rough around the edges but we improve it alongside with Caromble!

If there is enough interest from the community (that means you!) we’ll definitely do our best to polish it a lot more and release it with the game. Hopefully you’ll create levels that’ll astonish us.

 

Communicating Level Designs

Best Wishes for 2013, the year Caromble is expected to see the light!

 

In last weeks post, Thomas D already mentioned the switch mechanic, which will allow for some puzzle oriented levels. Last Friday we sat together to design some levels for this new mechanic. For us programmers, it is quite difficult to communicate our gameplay ideas, as we do not have the sort of ‘required’ skills to draw our ideas. We make the ugliest of mockups and add many words to describe what we intend to do with a level. Often the combination of sketches and written words aren’t even enough to make clear to the others what we really want, and it ends up in using big arm gestures and noises and extra sketches to communicate this properly. If only our artist Thomas S was able to telepathically understand our ideas and draw it for us, that would save us a lot of misunderstandings.

Here is one level sketch that Raymond and I made some time ago for a later level, with a ‘secret’ gameplay mechanic we did not yet mention. I call that mechanic the BDS, although Thomas D had rather I named it differently:) You can not imagine how many hours it took from creating this level-idea in our minds to this actual, still undetailed,  level-sketch. Note to self: take some drawing classes.

levelKlein

Our last 2012 Friday

Today we coded the switch gameplay feature into the actual game. This allows us to challenge our players with some mind-boggling puzzle elements. At the same time we designed the corresponding levels and fully tested them… as thought experiments. So we arrive at the point of discovering what we didn’t think of.

We are also playing around with adding juiciness! We are trying to make the Caromble! world feel more alive and reward you, our future Caromble! addict, with sexy effects!

 

adding_juiciness